Skip to content

Government delays runway decision, AEF reaction

10th December, 2015

The Government has today announced that a final decision on airport expansion will be delayed until further work on environmental impacts has been undertaken, especially on air quality. The Aviation Environment Federation (AEF)[1], a national NGO campaigning on the environmental impacts of flying, believe that a decision in support of expansion is premature without knowing whether important environmental questions can be answered.

Heathrow is one of the biggest sources of CO2 emissions in the UK and people living around the airport are already subject to aircraft noise and pollution levels that impair their health. Yet the Airports Commission failed to show, in two years of work, how a new runway could be compatible with key Government commitments on air pollution and climate change [2].

Is history repeating itself? Ten years ago, the then Government gave its support to Heathrow expansion but said it needed to be confident that air quality laws wouldn’t be breached. But the improvements necessary to meet this condition never materialised and some roads around Heathrow still breach legal air quality limits today with just two runways.

With key environmental challenges remaining [3], the Government should not commit to a new runway until and unless environmental questions relating to noise, air quality and climate can be answered.

AEF Deputy Director Cait Hewitt said

“The Government has had to admit that there are huge environmental hurdles in the way of Heathrow expansion. The Airports Commission hasn’t presented a convincing case on either air pollution or climate change problems, both of which would be made worse by expansion.

“The challenges of addressing the environmental impacts of a new runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick are no less significant than they were when the Coalition Government ruled out expansion for environmental reasons in 2010. The current Government should do the same.”


Contact: James Lees 020 3102 1509 /

Notes to editor:

[1] Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) is the leading UK organisation campaigning exclusively on the environmental impacts of aviation. We represent community groups and individuals around many of the UK’s airports and airfields.

[2] The Environmental Audit Committee report published last month highlighted the sheer scale of the environmental measures that Government would need to implement to prevent a third runway becoming an environmental disaster and warned against a premature decision on airport expansion. AEF gave verbal evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee as part of its inquiry and our comments were reflected in the EAC’s report (more here: The report concluded that no decision should be taken unless remaining environmental questions can be answered.

[3] Despite predicting that a new runway would cause an increase in emissions from aircraft, the Airports Commission pushed the challenge of meeting CO2 limits while expanding South East airports back to Government. See our report, All Set for Take Off, for more information: